Give “Listen” a Listen
Erin McAuliffe | Wednesday, September 3, 2014
I am lucky to have a dad Ezra Koenig would consider cool. In typical “cool dad” fashion, he never types out vowels but makes awesome meatloaf and – speaking of Meatloaf – exposed me to good music at a time in my life when my friends were bumpin’ Britney and humming High School Musical.
I would sit on the bed in our guest room while he would sort through music, old and new, on our family’s desktop computer. He would open my ears to The White Stripes and Talking Heads but never would insult my juvenile taste – even agreeing “Hollaback Girl” was a great jam. He taught me the value of music, comparing the price of albums and songs to the candy I could buy with my limited sixth-grade income.
Eventually it all started to sink in, and I began to identify my tastes – founding a Modest Mouse club in sixth grade.
One of the first songs I remember gravitating to during one of our listening sessions was “Naïve” by The Kooks. The sunny pop rhythms and Luke Pritchard’s unique voice charmed me. I delved into the rest of the band’s albums during their subsequent releases and found The Kooks to be a reliable source of jubilant melodies. To this day, the Kooks are one of the few bands I can set on shuffle and not skip through half their songs.
The band’s 2011 album, “Junk Of The Heart (Happy),” was not a critical success– perhaps the reason behind their change of sound on their album out September 9, “Listen.”
The British pop artists made an unexpected decision in hiring Inflo, a 25-year-old London-based hip-hop producer they found via Soundcloud, to produce “Listen.” This teaming may induce worry, but don’t fret – The Kooks will not be featuring Juicy J or the like. Instead, Inflo worked to expand the band’s sound. The Kooks did not shy away from featuring different influences on their new album: R&B, gospel and jazz all make appearances, united by Pritchard’s particular vocals. Pritchard describes the album as one of “pure expression.”
In case the listener picks up “Listen” unaware of the band’s shift in sound, the first track, “Around Town,” takes them to church. No, really. It starts off with a female gospel choir chanting, “Oh, yeah,” as if the choir loftily affirms the band’s new sound. The effect is equivalent to supplying a laugh track to assert the hilarity of a joke, as the voices echo in confirmation of the reinvented band.
The gospel influence is reiterated in “Sweet Emotion,” a track featuring a piano riff reminiscent of something you would hear in the Basilica on Sunday.
The album also features R&B stylings, summarized in “Down” which features Pritchard repeating, “down down diggy diggy,” resulting in a groovy track which brings to mind the clapping songs schoolgirls perform on the playground.
“Dreams” features Egyptian snake-charmer-style music in the background, creating a captivating effect. Also contributing to the alluring, ethereal effect are the lyrics, for example: “I was playing the flute in front of the Eiffel tower to a man in a starlit suit.”
Not only have the stylistic influences of The Kooks evolved with this album, but their lyrics have taken on more weight, as well. “See Me Know” serves as a letter to Pritchard’s late father, asking if he would be proud of the life his son has led thus far. The song is intimate and a change of pace for the band. “It Was London” serves as a social commentary on the London Riots, but the heavy lyrics clash with the upbeat, sing-songy vibes of the track, making for a somewhat uncomfortable listen.
The variety of genres incorporated into the album make for a unique, yet somewhat hectic, cluttered sound that relies on Pritchard’s vocals as the uniting force. The shift in lyricism from the sing-along, bubbly tracks of albums past to the heavier topics addressed throughout this album display maturity that may not impress fans expecting a more lighthearted vibe. But through the transformation, The Kooks have managed to remain true to their essence, and the diversity of music will be a welcome change for most listeners.
For those of you who unfortunately do not have a “cool dad” to give you music advice, I offer my own: Give “Listen” a listen.